Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

Book review: What's the cost of those $4.95 dresses from H&M?


(Photo: Natalie Castellino)

OVERDRESSED: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
(Portfolio Penguin)
Elizabeth L. Cline

As food, gas and home prices soar, consumers can take solace in knowing that clothes still come cheaply. Never before in history have we paid so little for apparel: in 2009, American consumers spent less than 3% of their annual household budget on clothes. When companies such as Forever 21 and Zara are finding success in churning out high-volume, low-priced garments and consumers are finding H&M dresses for as low as $4.95, doesn’t everybody win? According to author Elizabeth Cline, a self-confessed cheapskate herself, the losses are quietly mounting. The pressure on apparel companies to find cheaper labour caused the evacuation of almost 650,000 U.S. apparel jobs during the 10 years ending 2007. The environment takes a hit, too, when you consider that half of our wardrobe is now produced from plastic in the form of polyester. And standards of quality have hit a record low: Cline’s research found that a polo shirt from Ralph Lauren was no better made than one bought at Target. For the avid bargain shopper, this might be a depressing message to digest. But on the bright side, it’s nothing a little retail therapy can’t fix.